Asheville is a neat city in western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. It's nestled in the foothills of these mountains and it’s known for a vibrant arts scene and historic architecture, including the dome-topped Basilica of Saint Lawrence. (One of the most beautiful churches this side of the Mississippi). Of course, the main anchor that draws visitors to this cool city is it's proximity to the vast 19th-century Biltmore estate that displays artwork by masters like Renoir.
If you're not that into history and the legacy of those that came before of, you can kick back in the Downtown Art District which is filled with galleries and museums, and in the nearby River Arts District, where former factory buildings house artists' studios.
Here's some of the coolest things you can if you're in town in Asheville, NC
This enormous French Renaissance-style estate of George Vanderbilt has a storied past dating back to 1889. Considered America's largest private home, the 250-room estate – with 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and a whopping 65 fireplaces – took six years to construct. The 8,000 acres of gardens were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (the same landscape architect responsible for Central Park) and feature 2 ½ miles of walking paths.
Asheville Urban Trail
Weaving through downtown, the 1.7-mile-long Asheville Urban Trail walks visitors through the cultural and architectural history of the city. Created by the city of Asheville to showcase its unique past, each of the trail's 30 stops is marked with a public sculpture that captures an important person or moment in the area's history.
Pisgah National Forest (Staff Pick Must)
Offering more than 500,000 acres of land about 40 miles northeast of downtown Asheville, Pisgah National Park is jampacked with activities and breathtaking vistas. With hundreds of miles of trails and numerous waterfalls and swimming holes, the forest provides ample opportunities to appreciate the great outdoors.
One of the first national forests in the country, created partially with land that once belonged to the Biltmore Estate, the park is home to the first forestry school in the United States as well as the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute and Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River.
The North Carolina section offers many of the Appalachian Trail's highest peaks, several above 6,000 feet. Hiking enthusiasts can set out on a multiday or weeklong journey (keep in mind that you'll need permits to camp and hike in some areas, especially inside the Great Smoky Mountains).
If you're just looking for a little taste of Appalachia, you can venture about 35 miles northwest of Asheville to the town of Hot Springs, where the Appalachian Trail runs right through town on Bridge Street. From there, park at the Silvermine trailhead and follow the Appalachian Trail until you reach Lover's Leap Ridge. You can continue to hike along the Appalachian Trail or follow the orange blazes to complete the Lover's Leap Loop.
Blue Ridge Parkway
The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway begins in Virginia and meanders through about 250 miles of western North Carolina. With a maximum speed of 45 mph, the highway offers drivers numerous opportunities to stop at overlooks, quaint mountain towns and hiking and biking trails. The parkway is divided by milepost markers that increase as you drive farther south.
The headquarters and main visitor center is located in Asheville at milepost 384. There, travelers can learn about the natural and cultural history of the region, as well as the outdoor activities available along the parkway.
The North Carolina Arboretum
Those with green thumbs will want to put the North Carolina Arboretum on their to-do list. Located about 10 miles south of downtown Asheville off of Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 393, the arboretum is a 434-acre public garden within Pisgah National Park.
Visitors can wander through 65 acres of gardens, including the National Native Azalea Collection, the Bonsai Exhibition Garden and a Heritage Garden that celebrates Southern Appalachian horticulture, plus much more. Affiliated with the University of North Carolina, the gardens also offer more than 10 miles of hiking and biking trails that vary in levels of difficulty. (Recent visitors said the walking trails were an unexpected highlight of their time at the arboretum.) Kids can take part in a variety of interactive youth activities, such as loaner discovery backpacks (available for free) and hands-on lessons from Shelly, the arboretum's resident box turtle.
Folk art Center
At milepost 382 off the Blue Ridge Parkway, you'll find the Folk Art Center, home to the Southern Highland Craft Guild. The guild dates back to the 1890s and still represents the artists and craftsmen of Southern Appalachia.
One of the most popular spots off the Blue Ridge Parkway, welcoming 250,000 visitors annually, the center displays traditional and contemporary crafts in three galleries, and is home to a bookstore, a parkway information desk, a library and the Allanstand Craft Shop – the oldest of its kind in the nation. From March to December, the center also features daily craft demonstrations, and hosts special events that highlight materials (such as glass, fiber and clay) used in Southern Appalachia crafts.
So what do you think? Did we miss any hidden gems? Asheville is a true gem here in the South and gets overlooked many times.
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